Digital Literacy–What does it mean to a writer?

digital literacy‘Digital literacy’ is one of those buzz words floated by experts as being granular to the 21st-century. It’s on everyone’s tongue but figuring out what it means can be daunting. ‘Literacy’ is simple: the ability to read and write–so ‘digital literacy’ should be achieving those goals digitally.

Not that simple. Here are a few of the definitions I found:

the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.“.

–Cornell University

“the ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information”

–Digital Strategy Glossary of Key Terms

“the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers:

–Paul Gilster, Digital Literacy

“a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments

–Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan: Connecting the Digital Dots

Philosophically, these are all good definitions, but after fifteen years teaching K-8 technology and grad school, I know ‘digital literacy’ is much more complicated than a couple of sentences, especially when we’re talking about a generation baptized in iPads and smartphones. Here are the seven transformative skills required to be digitally-literate:

Basic tools

Digital literacy implies skills you and your characters already have but without paper, pencils, books, or lectures. It’s purpose-built and user-driven and includes the following:

  • digital devices–such as laptops, iPads, Chromebooks, or desktops, used daily
  • a digital calendar–with due dates, activities, and other events
  • an annotation tool (like Acrobat, Notability, or iAnnotate), to take notes wherever you are
  • email–or some method of communicating quickly–more real-time than email. This can be messaging, Twitter, or a dedicated forum

social mediaSocial media

Social media has the reputation as a gossip column–where people meet to chat. But, it’s not your mother’s water cooler. Over a billion people use Facebook and Twitter every day. That’s over 80% of internet users, about 70% in high school or under. It crosses both sexes and all income levels. In short, it has become the communication method-of-choice for millennials and younger, where users share information, collaborate on ideas, and update deadlines.

As a writer, your goal is to represent characters as they are in the real world. That’s social media.

cloud computingCloud computing

The digitally-literate can start something in one place and finish it in another. It may require switching seamlessly between the work PC and the home Mac. It means sharing a report with team members without worrying that you don’t have email addresses or they can’t read the format you published in. Cloud computing makes all that happen. It’s accessible from anywhere with internet or WiFi, on any device, by whoever you give access. Whether that’s one document a week or ten, people expect you to be that versatile.

Writers need to understand how cloud computing works and which ‘clouds’ are used by their characters.

Digital databases

Physical libraries are often closed when inspiration strikes. Plus, their supply of resources is dictated by how many shelves they have. The Library of Congress, while almost infinite (with a copy of every copyrighted tome) can only be accessed from Washington DC. Digital databases are the new library. They’re infinite, everywhere, and welcome visitors at all hours. Writers should learn how to roam these virtual halls and access not only online libraries but dedicated databases like the Smithsonian and the History Channel.digital library

Virtual collaboration

Writer’s groups struggle to find a time that works for all participants, agree on a meeting place, and then actually get there (schedule conflicts with other family members or car problems can make that difficult).  Virtual collaboration has none of those problems. Documents can be shared with all stakeholders and accessed at will. Many digital tools (like Google Apps) allow writers to review submittals for a critique group even if the dog ate their printed copy. Meetings can take place in the bedroom or their backyard, through virtual sites like Google Hangouts and Skype. A wide variety of resources can be shared without lugging an armful of materials to the meeting and ultimately forgetting to bring half of them home. These get-togethers can even be taped and shared with absent members or rewound for review.

Writers should become comfortable using these if for no other reason than that their characters may use them, especially if they’re under forty.

Evaluate information found online

Just because information is online doesn’t mean it’s not ‘fake news’. Writers will quickly lose their reading audience if they don’t present accurate information that fits the facts. To do that, writers need the tools to evaluate the reliability and veracity of what they find online. This includes questions such as:

  • is the site legitimate or a hoax
  • is the author an expert or a third grader
  • is the information current or dated
  • is the data neutral or biased

Digital citizenshipcollaboration

Because we-all spend so much time online, we need to learn how to act in that digital neighborhood. This includes topics detailing the rights and responsibilities of digital citizens, such as:

  • cyberbullying
  • legality of online material
  • buying stuff online
  • digital footprints
  • privacy and safety while traveling the digital world

Being a good citizen of the digital world is no different than the physical world. There are practical strategies that revolve around proper netiquette and an understanding of the culture that permeates a vast, anonymous, Wild West-like territory often defined by the accountability of those who visit it.

Consider these eight topics the organic workflow to be covered as you and your characters travel the internet. I’ve only touched on them–let me know if you have questions about any and I’ll direct you to more resources.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

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Just for Fun: Let’s Write a Story

Today, let’s write a story together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or perfect, let’s just have fun with it.  Each of us can add a comment with a few sentences to keep the story building. Come back throughout the day to add more!

 

Here is an opening:

 

They had arranged for their blind date to take place in the little cafe because it was a safe, public place.  The tables around them filled up as other patrons came in for their afternoon lattes, the room filling with the sound of dozens of private conversations. The pair looked across the room and were surprised to see their exes sitting at a table drinking coffees…and watching them.

Now it’s your turn: continue the story in the comments!

Just for Fun: Let’s Write a Story

Today, let’s write a story together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or perfect, let’s just have fun with it.  Each of us can add a comment with a few sentences to keep the story building. Come back throughout the day to add more!

 

Here is an opening:

 

The mall Santa looked out at the long line of kids waiting to talk to him and get their pictures taken. His mind drifted off as he imagined the end of his shift and the beginning of happy hour that evening.  He was snapped back to reality when the kid on his lap made his final gift request.

Now it’s your turn: continue the story in the comments!

The Writers Circle: Collaboration

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Have you ever worked on a collaborative writing project? How did you and your partner(s) handle the writing process? Did you ever have disagreements about plot direction or character traits, and if so, how did you work those out? Were there any tools you and your partner(s) used to make the collaborative writing process easier to manage?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

 

Do you have an idea you think would be a great topic for a future The Writer’s Circle post?  Do you have a question you’d like to ask our authors?  Fill out the form on our Contact Us page to share your ideas and questions.

 

Just for Fun: Let’s Write a Story

Today, let’s write a story together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or perfect, let’s just have fun with it.  Each of us can add a comment with a few sentences to keep the story building. Come back throughout the day to add more!

 

Here is an opening:

Harvey thought the little outdoor cafe would be the perfect place for the meeting -good food, good coffee, lots of people around…and since it was outdoors, it had an easy escape route if things got out of hand.  But now that he was sitting there across the table from the man he only knew as The Boss, he wasn’t so sure the location – or the meeting itself – was such a good idea after all.

Now it’s your turn: continue the story in the comments!

 

Just for Fun: Let’s Write a Story

Today, let’s write a story together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or perfect, let’s just have fun with it.  Each of us can add a comment with a few sentences to keep the story building. Come back throughout the day to add more!

 

Here is an opening:

 

The hotel had been closed for renovations for nearly a year before Steven bought it from the old owners.  Over several weeks he and his crew worked from room to room, putting finishing touches on them in preparation for the grand reopening. As the big day approached, his phone rang.  “Yeah, boss,” said the foreman on the other end of the line, “you’d better get up here.  We’ve got a little problem.”

Now it’s your turn: continue the story in the comments!